At street level, the Checkley home off North Charles Street in Baltimore looks like a simple two-story, no-nonsense Colonial-style home between two Victorian-period farmhouses. Just 36 feet wide, its white vinyl siding, slightly pitched roof and windows dressed with dark blue shutters present a tidy structure, the kind of house where children first learn to draw pictures.
The surprise, just inside this basic package and behind a central staircase, is an expansive interior, 91 feet in length and representative of two distinct architectural styles.
Dr. Meghan Checkley, a 41-year-old emergency medicine physician at Union Memorial Hospital, and her 3-year-old son Jack walk visitors past a living room and dining room, maintained in the home's 1906 construction style, with dentil molding at the ceilings and traditional furnishings that blend Queen Anne and Provincial styles.
The common thread in these two front rooms, and throughout the home, is found in the collection of paintings created by her grandfather, Frank Majewski, who took up a brush at the age of 60. Represented on the walls are formal pieces from what she calls his "Asian period," along with whimsical pieces, such as Beatrix Potter reproductions, and large abstract works.
Behind the center staircase leading to the second level — with four bedrooms and two baths of the original home — is where the house opens up and completely changes architectural design. Here a large bright kitchen segues to an equally expansive great room, behind which is found an office area and, finally, what she and her husband, Dr. William Checkley, call the boys' "fun room."
From an upstairs window these areas beyond the kitchen can be seen telescoping into a sizeable backyard.
"We didn't add any square footage," said Meghan Checkley about the house, which the couple purchased a little more than seven years ago for $685,000. "The kitchen had just been redone; the great room was a horrible garage followed by a long hallway and … a therapy room behind it."
The kitchen was renovated in the Craftsman style, with cherry cabinetry and ash flooring. An unusually large curtain-free window above the sink allows the sun's rays to illuminate the stainless-steel appliances.
Seated at a farmhouse-style kitchen table with Windsor chairs, Meghan Checkley explains how she and her husband contacted the kitchen's designer and hired him to renovate the back rooms carrying over the Frank Lloyd Wright mode of interior construction.
Consequently the one-time garage boasts a high vaulted ceiling, built-in Mission-style bookcases, oak floors, a wall of windows and doors framed in cherry, and a raised stone fireplace open to the family room and the office space behind it.
Contrasting with the room's cool blue walls are the red-orange walls of the back office. Hung on one wall is a painting in bright colors, including gold, that give it the effect of an illuminated manuscript.
"The painting in our office room is a Tibetan thangka," said William Checkley, a 41-year-old pulmonary critical care physician and Johns Hopkins University faculty member who is involved in global health research in chronic lung disease. "[They] serve as teaching tools [and] reminders of the life of Buddha, but are also used in prayers [and] ceremonies.
"The one in our house portrays the birth of Buddha. It was a gift for Meghan when she was pregnant with our first child, Brian. … The painter, Chei Wan, is a Buddhist priest from Nepal that lives in the rural village that I visit for work. It took [the artist] about eight months to complete the painting."
Artwork of a different kind dresses the light blue walls in the "fun room" of Jack and 6-year-old Brian. Large bird decals and school drawings on bulletin boards are hung between multiple windows and a skylight splashes sunlight into the room. Toys are neatly stacked on white shelving units along with play tables stacked with Legos.
"Our home is our nest," said Meghan Checkley. "We have been very lucky that the house we chose originally, before any children, has been so amenable to our changes and our family's changing needs."
As comfortably as the Checkley family fits into their home, so too do they fit into the neighborhood.
"We have a perfect mix of old and new, city and county," she said. "We have foxes, possums, hundreds of sparrows, a hawk and rabbits, to name just a few of the animals who share our property. That's exceptional for the city and exceptionally fun with the boys."
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